The Jainas possess a distinct religion, a separate philosophy, a different ethical code, a set of peculiar beliefs, practices, customs and manners and a vast literature of their own. Though Jainas form a small minority at present, yet in the past they were not only numerous but also enjoyed royal patronage for a long time in various parts of the country.
Consequently the Jaina rules of conduct are in observance throughout the last so many centuries. But as the Jainas were and are living in close contact with the Hindus, both influenced each other in several ways to such an extent that the Jainas, being in minority, came to be regarded as part of Hindus.
Accordingly it was thought that the Jainas do no possess a way of life different from others, and especially from Hindus. Therefore with a view to know whether the Jainas think that there is anything like Jaina culture as distinct from other cultures in India, the question number 47 was asked.
From the replies it will be seen that out of 154 persons only fifteen think that the Jaina culture is not separate from other cultures of India, while there are 120 persons who forcefully assert that the Jaina culture is a separate entity alto- gether.
The few persons belonging to the first school of thought consider that Jaina culture is a part of Hindu culture or they go a step further and say that Jaina culture is a part of Aryan culture which is built up by the Jainas, Buddhists and Hindus.
But in saying so the persons of this category do admit that the Jaina culture is distinct to a certain extent, if not entirely distinct, from other cultures in India. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of Jainas seem to side the second school of thought which categorically maintains that the finer thinking of Jaina philosophy of life differs greatly from others and therefore a truly Jaina conduct presents a different culture distinct in its outlook and far-reaching in its range.
It cannot be denied, it is argued, that the features of Jaina culture are quite distinct from other cultures especially in matters like outlook towards life and world. insistence on spiritual progress, and observance of Ahimsa or creed of non-violence in all possible ways.
The basic difference, it is stated, lies in the religious philosophy of the Jainas and as religion moulds the entire way of life, the Jaina way of life automatically becomes separate from other ways of life.
Vilas A. Sangave
*This is an extract from Prof. Sangave’s JAINA COMMUNITY A Social Survey, 2nd edition, Bombay 1980: 349/50. A very recommendable book. On page 374 of this work Dr. Sangave writes:
“In philosophy the Jainas occupy a distinct position between the Brahmanic and Buddhist philoso- phical systems. Regarding the problem of Being the three hold different opinions. The Vedantins consider that underlying and upholding from within all things there is one absolute permanent Being. without change and with none other like it.
On the contrary the Buddhists hold that all things are transitory. The Jainas, however, contend that Being is joined to production, continuation, destruction and they call their theory of multiple view points anekantavada, in contradistinction to the theory of permanency (nityavada) of the Vedantins, and of the theory of transitoriness (vinashavada) of the Buddhists.
The Jainas think that the existing things are permanent only as regards their substance, but their accidents or qualities originate and perish.(…) As the Jainas have evolved a philosophy of their own, they follow a distinct ethical code based on their philosophy.
Thus one of the significant contribution of the Jainas is the Ahimsa culture. If the Jainas are known for anything it is for the evolution of Ahimsa culture and it must be said to the credit of the Jainas that they practised and propagated that culture from ancient times.”